How Nachos Were Accidentally Invented

A favorite food of everyone — from the 90s rockers Beavis and Butt-head to college students looking for a quick snack — the humble nacho is something that can please even the pickiest eater. It could be as simple as tortilla chips drenched in microwaved Velveeta or as elaborate mountains of chips, cheese, and taco toppings that can serve as a meal all by itself. So loved is this simple yet addictive snack that there are not one, but two days dedicated to celebrating them, with October 21 being the International Day of the Nacho and November 6 being National Nachos Day.

But just where does this beloved snack food come from? Was it the sporadic invention of some bored clerk at 7-Eleven back in the 1980s? Does it have roots as a classic Mexican dish that was later influenced by American culture?

Technically, both of these answers have a bit of truth behind them. Nachos do indeed have a connection to Mexican cuisine and they were an invention literally made on the spot. The origin of these cheesy tortilla chips can be traced back to the Mexican border town of Piedra Negras, one restaurant owner, and several hungry women.

Nachos were invented by Ignacio Anaya

As the story goes, per the New York Times, Piedra Negras, a town located near the Rio Grande, housed a United States military base. Wives of the base would cross the river into the town to dine out and shop. One day in 1940, the women walked into the Victory Club restaurant for something to eat. Unknown to them, the Victory Club was operating outside of business hours and the only person there was the maître d'hôtel, a man by the name Ignacio — or "Nacho" — Anaya.

Although there were no cooks, Anaya didn't want to drive out these customers, so he had to think of something quick. With what ingredients he could find, Anaya topped totopos (fried corn tortilla chips), with Colby cheese and jalapenos and baked them until the cheese had melted. Surprisingly, the women quickly gobbled down this new appetizer, even asking for seconds. This dish, which would be named "nachos" after Anaya, took off, spreading across the region and even allowed Anaya to open his own restaurant.

While you may think that Anaya's family would surely be millionaires from the invention of the nacho, Anaya had never patented the dish. Instead, the term "father of the nacho" has been dubbed to the late Frank Liberto, who helped popularize nachos across sports stadiums all over the country (via The Washington Post). It's said that Liberto never improved Anaya's recipe, rather, just helped make its way more mainstream.